Small World: Shutdown and default without end

Henry Prect

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

For some weeks now — years, really, if you go back to Gingrich — our Republic has had to endure the threat or reality of shutdown and of inability to pay its legitimate debts. This is intolerable for a nation that describes itself as “the sole Great Power,” “indispensable,” “exceptional” or you pick the self-flattering adjective.

Last week, Congress finally agreed to fund the government to January 15, and extend the Treasury’s borrowing authority until February 7. The deal, thus, offers only a temporary solution and does not resolve the budgetary issues that fiercely divide Republicans and Democrats. The crisis of past weeks could resume next year.

The lesser party in the our-party system — in all cases of budget crisis so far the Republicans — decides it does not like a particular law or an accumulation of laws which requires spending and sets out to change them by holding the government hostage. Take the currently targeted Obamacare law: It was passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president who was subsequently reelected. It was also approved by the Supreme Court. Never mind that mandate; extreme conservatives have waged a well-financed campaign to defeat it — much as they successfully did against universal health care 65 years ago and unsuccessfully tried against Social Security and Medicare.

Plainly, our Republic cannot prosper, cannot advance, perhaps cannot even survive when constantly hobbled by extortion exercised by a minority. There are two choices before us: Either to flop along from crisis to crisis or for the president to exercise strong — in the view of some, unconstitutional — leadership and guide the United States with or without the backing of Congress.

To stave off default and the economic disaster that would be inflicted not only on our fragile economy but on that of the entire world, the president must exercise his full range of powers as if we faced a grave national emergency — which we most certainly do. The Congress can’t — won’t — approve the issuance of notes to fund legitimate obligations? The president should act without that authorization and pay creditors in China, Japan and elsewhere, as well as Social Security and Medicare recipients and others owed money by Washington.

There will be vociferous complaints from the Right and some also from the Left. A fascist takeover they will shout. The end of our constitutional system, they will sue in the courts. And in relatively short order, the Supreme Court will be faced with the question. Who knows how they will react? But as an earlier president is said to have snorted, “The Supreme Court has made its decision; let them enforce it.”

It would be a horrendous mess, no question about it. But when our leaders realize that they must support the nation rather than destructively oppose it, the furor should quiet a bit. The best possible outcome would be for all sides — minus the extremes — to agree on the need for a constitutional convention to update and revise our founding instrument.

This admittedly far-out solution is not without legal foundation: The Constitution has confirmed the legitimacy of U.S. public debt appropriated by Congress. In Section 4 of the 14th Amendment — added to take care of debts and pensions after the Civil War — there is scope for responding to our present national divide — our present civil war. (“Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”)

In the present struggle between Democrats and Republicans — the next big battle set for January and February — those responsible for shutting down the government and blocking borrowing (the Republicans) are not seeking national ruin. They simply demand their victory over Obamacare, heedless of the collateral damage to the nation.

That destructive, irresponsible and repetitious affront must not be allowed to dominate and distort our democracy.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

Please follow and like us: